College Football’s Redemption (NCAA Preview)

NCAA Football has had a rough offseason after numerous problems arose and made it to the public eye. The biggest thing has been the never-ending flow of reports of recruiting infractions and illegal activities in the NCAA. One of the biggest issues has come out of Ohio State where players sold merchandise in exchange for tattoos. This infraction has led to legendary coach Jim Tressel retiring and Terrell Pryor leaving the team to enter the NFL supplemental draft. It may also lead to major sanctions against the program that could include anything from the removal of scholarships to a ban on attending bowls and forfeiting wins much like at USC. It could also lead to the worst sanction of all known as the death penalty, although that is unlikely as it has only been invoked once against SMU. Another big infraction has been revealed in Miami where a booster has been accused of paying players for years. With both of these infractions and the many more along the way it seems as though the NCAA has a lot of fixing to do and the best way to do that is to go out and play football again and remind fans why the game is so exciting. Of course nothing will ever completely get rid of this distraction along with the inevitable debate over playoffs vs. bowls that will begin in the first couple weeks of the season. Aside from all of the recruiting violations and the too insane fans, a man was accused of poisoning the oaks at Auburn, there is still something great about college football. It could be that many of the players are at the peak of their career and understand they will not move on with football so they make sure they leave it out there. It could be the fact that every game in the season could be the difference between being top 25 or being forgotten. It could also be the tradition that the NCAA holds with teams like Alabama and Notre Dame. It could be the rivalries that seem to be a little more extreme than many professionals. It could even be that we get to follow plenty of stories throughout the season or that everyone has their own team for any number of reason. Whatever the reason is that you decide to watch don’t let the bad news deter you from watching some fun and exciting football this season in the NCAA. Here is my look at the 2011 NCAA season as they begin to try and put these infractions behind them and just play football.

 

The Favorites

Alabama Crimson Tide

The Tide will be looking to Roll over their competition but will shift focus to their defence this year. Last year Bama’s hopes ended when they lost the Iron Bowl to their longtime rivals and eventual National Champions the Auburn Tigers. After the season the offence took a hit as they lost former Heisman winning running back Mark Ingram, their starting QB in Greg McElroy, and star wide receiver Julio Jones. A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims will look to replace McElroy and veteran receivers Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks will help fill the shoes of Jones. Although they lost Ingram to the draft there is an easy transition to Heisman hopeful Trent Richardson who will continue the success of the Bama’s running game. The Defence will be the anchor however as they will return some key players from the 3rd best defence in the country last year. The defence will be anchored by two impact linebackers in Courtney Upshaw and Dont’a Hightower. The Tide is ranked #1 going into the season and would like to keep it that way with a fairly weak schedule. They should be fine for most of the season but their defining moment will be, as usual, in the Iron Bowl against Auburn on November 26th.

Oklahoma Sooners

“Boomer Sooner” is what Oklahoma fans will be looking to cheer in New Orleans for the National Championships this year. Oklahoma seems to have all of the tools to go to the championship this year as they will be led by a strong offence. Landry Jones will lead the offence as a Heisman hopeful who is in one of the best passing attacks in the NCAA. He will be trying to make a case for the Heisman award by finally stepping out of the shadow of 2010 draftee Sam Bradford. Landry will be using his favorite receiver in Ryan Boyles who had the most receptions in the country last year. On defence the Sooners will lean on Sophomore linebacker Corey Nelson and cornerback Demontre Hurst. Oklahoma’s schedule is a little bit tougher than #1 Alabama and it would not be a surprise if they overtook the Crimson Tide for the #1 spot early in the season. There are a couple essential games for the Sooners as they will need to get by Florida State, Missouri, Texas A&M, and Texas in the Red River Rivalry. Their defining game could be in Dallas when they face off in their classic rivalry with Texas as if they lose to Texas they will fall far in the rankings.

Oregon Ducks

Last year the Oregon Ducks rode the fastest offence in the NCAA to the National Championship but lost to a strong Auburn team. This year they will be returning the majority of that team that made every team that played them double over to catch their breath. The main aspect to that was the best running back in the NCAA as Heisman candidate LaMichael James returns to lead the Ducks back to the championship. Joining James will be his QB Darron Thomas, also a Heisman hopeful, who has developed from last year into a much better QB allowing for a more balanced attack. The challenge they will have on offence will be the loss of three starting lineman that will be replaced and hopefully be able to continue the offensive success. On defence the loss of Casey Matthews will hurt them but the bend and not break attitude is still there led by Cliff Harris. Harris will also be an asset on special teams as he returned four punts for TDs last year. Their schedule starts and finishes strong but is not very challenging for the rest of the year due to the lack of challengers in the Pac-12. Their biggest game will be their first as they will headline the first week of games against #3 LSU on September 3rd.

 

The Underdogs

South Carolina Gamecocks

South Carolina is in one of the toughest conferences in the NCAA as they have played against some of the best teams in the nation every year. The South Eastern Conference has produced some of the best players and best teams in the NCAA and is widely considered one of the best conferences in the NCAA. This means a lot of competition for the Gamecocks but they have never shied away as they have continued to get better under Steve Spurrier. They have a lot stacked against them but they will lean on one of the best running backs in the country Marcus Lattimore who was voted the top freshman in the country last year. They will need to ride him as their passing game has not been stellar and with the QB spot up for grabs and a great receiver wanting to show what he can do. The Gamecocks will have to get through the SEC to have a chance at the BCS as their schedule will include defending champions Auburn, Arkansas, Florida, and Georgia. Their biggest game will be against Auburn on October 1st. If they can beat the defending champs they may be able to make a run to the top of the rankings.

Stanford Cardinal

The Stanford Cardinal are ranked #4 but they are not getting a lot of respect this year as many assume they will not be able to challenge for #1. This is, in large party, due to the fact that they have lost two top wide receivers, three starters on the offensive line, and possibly the biggest loss of all in their head coach Jim Harbaugh. Harbaugh was widely credited for the turnaround in Stanford and with his departure to the NFL, he also took defensive coordinator Vic Fangio with him, many have began to doubt whether they can continue the success. The season rests completely on Heisman favorite Andrew Luck who returned to get his degree and will be playing in his last year to win a championship. With Luck under centre anything is possible as if he does well he will be the #1 pick in the NFL draft next year. There will be challenges as he wil have to deal with an inexperienced line and an inexperienced receiving corps but if he is what he has been built to be he will make everyone around him better. The defence was the main reason they turned around and with Michael Thomas leading the secondary they will be able to make a challenge at the #1 spot. They will also have a weak schedule that won’t really get tough until the end of October. Their biggest game will be their last against a very good Notre Dame team on November 26th.

Florida State Seminoles

Florida State was a super power not so long ago and they will look to return to that this season but they may have some work to get there. With their starting QB gone to the NFL it will be time for E.J. Manuel to take over the team as a true #1 QB. Christian Ponder led the team for most of the season last year but had some injuries that allowed Manuel to take over and this year he will take over the offence as the #1 QB on the depth chart. Manuel will have a number of running backs to take some of the pressure off as the Seminoles will run by committee using three RBs and possibly four throughout the season. The defence is generally intact except for the linebacking corps that will be led by the only returning starter Nigel Bradham. Florida State has had a long climb back to the top 10 and with so much competition at the top it lokos to be another big climb to the top 3. Their schedule is not too strong either as the ACC is not one of the better conferences in the NCAA. Their biggest game will be against Oklahoma on September 17th that could make or break the season.

Preseason Top 25:

1. Alabama Crimson Tide

2. Oklahoma Sooners

3. LSU Tigers

4. Stanford Cardinal

5. Oregon Ducks

6. Florida State Seminoles

7. South Carolina Gamecocks

8. Boise State Broncos

9. Nebraska Cornhuskers

10. Texas A&M Aggies

11. Wisconsin Badgers

12. Oklahoma State Cowboys

13. Michigan State Spartans

14. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

15. Virginia Tech Hokies

16. Arkansas Razorbacks

17. Arizona State Sun Devils

18. TCU Horned Frogs

19. Ohio State Buckeyes

20. USC Trojans

21. Mississippi State Bulldogs

22. Missouri Tigers

23. West Virginia Mountaineers

24. Auburn Tigers

25. Florida Gators

 

Heisman Race:

 

1. Andrew Luck, QB (Stanford)

Not only is Luck a member of a BCS Bowl favorite but he is also considered the potential #1 Draft pick in 2012. He will need to guide the #4 Stanford Cardinal to an undefeated season and into a BCS Bowl plus he will need to overcome the runner-up curse after going #2 for the Heisman Last year and not having a runner up win the next year since 1986. The biggest game he will play is against the Oregon Ducks on November 12 where he will face off against his biggest opponent for the Heisman in LaMichael James.

 

2. LaMichael James, RB (Oregon)

As one of the leaders of the reloaded Ducks, LaMichael James will be in a big battle with Andrew Luck for the 2011 Heisman. Oregon is a favorite to make the BCS Championship again this year and their fast paced offence will be lead by their star running back in James. Much like Andrew Luck the November 12th matchup against Stanford could be the determining factor in the Heisman race.

 

3. Trent Richardson, RB (Alabama)

The key piece to the preseason #1 will be their running back Trent Richardson who will take over full control over the running game with the departure of Mark Ingram. Richardson will lead a strong campaign to the BCS Championship game. He will likely be one of the best RBs in the game this year but will be up against a number of returning hopefuls. With big names like LaMichael James and Andrew Luck in front of him the recognition he will get may not be that much. His only hope will be if James and Luck cannot manage to improve or match last year’s performance.

 

4. Landry Jones, QB (Oklahoma)

The Sooners will be competing with the Crimson Tide all year to get into the BCS Championship game and may join them there by the end of the year. The reason they are #2 is due to their wide open offence that is based on the passing game. Leading this passing game will be their QB Landry Jones who is an outside shot of earning the Heisman this year. Last year he had a great year but did not enter the top 10 players in votes and so it may be an uphill climb. Many believe he is a product of the system he plays in which will definitely hurt him when it comes time to vote.

 

5. Darron Thomas, QB (Oregon)

Oregon is another favorite because of their offence led by LaMichael James but another important piece to that offence is QB Darron Thomas. He will help lead the Oregon offence with James and will continue to outwork teams by keeping a torrid pace. Thomas will be a very outside chance mainly because the success of his team will be mainly attributed to his counterpart in LaMichael James. On the chance that James does not perform up to par Thomas will become the leader and may have a shot at the Heisman.

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